Above image: Creative Commons Licence
There has been some controversy regarding the difference between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) amongst researchers and members of the medical profession.
During the early 1990s, the psychologist Judith Herman, in her seminal book Trauma And Recovery, noted that individuals who had suffered severe, long-lasting, interpersonal trauma, ESPECIALLY IN EARLY LIFE, were frequently suffering from symptoms such as the following:
– disturbance in their view of themselves
– a marked propensity to seek out experiences and relationships which mirrored their original trauma
– severe difficulties controlling emotions and regulating moods
– identity problems/the loss of a coherent sense of self
– a marked inability to develop trusting relationships
– adoption by the victim of the perpetrator’s belief system
Furthermore, some may go on to become abusers themselves, whilst others may be constantly compelled to seek out relationships with others who abuse them in a similar way to the original abuser (i.e. the parent or ‘care-taker’)
It is most unfortunate that, prior to the identification of the disorder that gives rise to the above symptoms, now referred to as COMPLEX POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER, those suffering from the above symptoms were NOT recognized as having suffered from trauma and were therefore not asked about their childhood traumatic experiences during treatment. This meant, of course, that the chances of successful treatment were greatly reduced.
Further research, most notably the research of van der Kolk, a world-renowned expert on the symptoms of trauma and its treatment, has now demonstrated that the effects of severe, long-lasting interpersonal trauma in childhood go above and beyond the symptoms associated with PTSD (PTSD – as opposed to complex PTSD – is associated with the experience of a single traumatic incident that places excessive demand on the body’s stress response such as a serious car crash).
The main symptoms of complex PTSD are as follows:
1) severe dysregulation of mood
2) severe impulse control impairment
3) somatic (physical) symptoms (e.g. headaches, stomach aches, weakness/fatigue)
4) changes in self-perception (e.g. seeing self as deeply defective, ‘bad’ or even ‘evil’)
5) severe difficulties relating to others, including an inability to feel emotionally secure or empowered in relationships
6) changes in perception of the perpetrator of the abuse (e.g. rationalizing their abuse/idealization of the perpetrator)
7) inability to see any meaning in life/existential confusion
8) inability to keep oneself calm under stress/inability to ‘self-soothe’
9) impaired self-awareness/fragmented sense of self
10) pathological dissociation
Whilst it is certainly true that there is an OVERLAP between the symptoms of PTSD and complex PTSD, many researchers now argue that PTSD and complex PTSD should be regarded as SEPARATE and DISTINCT disorders.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).